Whenever this tune plays I`m sent back. Back somewhere packed with bodies jerking, jacking. Their arms thrown out straight and aloft. Kung Fu, karate-chopping. Eyes closed and shaking their heads to the sound of the kora. Hit by strobes and strawberry smoke.I can’t see any further than my neighbours, and then only when that light flashes. But we are somehow joined, together, in the dance, in righteous abandon. It was a celebration. But for me it also felt like a protest – against the week I`d had, the week before that, and the week before that…I was an angry young man, railing against everything. Beaten as a child with authority issues. People have said that this thing wasn’t political. But for me it was an escape, and it sure felt like revolution.
The first time I heard it I was a “newbie” at The Trip. I was well late to the party – a “Ted”. Dancing awkward. Out of step and sync. Trying to score an E. Failing to impress gum-chewing on-one lovelies. Not realizing that folks weren’t here to cop off. A lager in each hand. Spilling beer everywhere, as the crowd bumped me left to right, back to front, up and down. But in a matter of weeks, like a method actor I’d pulled on the role. I went from being Morrissey to a geezer in about a minute. Put the record on and I`ll show ya. Bowling, strolling into spaces full of strangers, not knowing a soul, making like I`m friends with everyone. A bag of pills in my pocket, dressed in carefully chosen rags, like a hardened Amnesia veteran. Taking my cues from I-D and Boys Own. Beat up Converse, and cast-off Chevignon. Unshaven. Curly locks. Straight out onto the floor of tiny clubs and warehouse parties. Up West and out in the East End. Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and sometimes Sundays. Free of thought. Lost in dreams and films that played inside my head. No sleep, and not a care while the music lasted.
The Trip was the first place I really saw people of all colours united. Having grown up in a South London of SUS laws, race riots, glassings, taxings, and bashings. Thugs of every fucking shade. 303 and cowbell rattle. Irresistible b-line and big bass drum kick. Brass blasts and that African harp. Yé Ké Yé Ké was a cultural melting pot – perfectly suited to the times. We`d all sing along, fluent now – for a moment – in Mandinka:
“Bi sounkouroun lou la donkégna, aha
Bi sounkouroun lou la donkégna, aha
I madji I ma yélé
I kanan n’bila nara ro
N’bo n’bolo bila
Kanfalani yana sara le ila”
Grooving with the griot, Mory Kanté. Those horns like an order – to dance – from the heavens. A call to open arms.
Mory Kanté (29 March 1950 – 22 May 2020). Rest In Peace.